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Climate justice activism presses univ. for action

By Mia Edelstein

Section: News

March 13, 2015

Brandeis Climate Justice (BCJ) and Faculty Against the Climate Threat (FACT) are pressing the university to diversify Brandeis’ endowment from fossil fuels more actively than ever before.

After 79 percent of students voted in support of divestment in an April 2013 referendum, the administration formed the Exploratory Committee on Fossil Fuel Divestment, a committee dedicated to investigating divestment and the school’s options. Composed of undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, alumni and administrators, the committee is compiling a report about the social and environmental impact of investment in fossil fuel companies and the investment alternatives for Brandeis. In the letter describing the committee to the community, President Frederick M. Lawrence quoted the university’s investment policy, which would shape the work of the committee. “Where a corporation’s conduct is found to be clearly and gravely offensive to the university community’s sense of social justice and where it is found that the exercising of shareholder rights and powers is unlikely to correct the injury, consideration should be given to selling that corporation’s securities,” he wrote.

The committee is set to release the report within the next two weeks, and hopes to finalize changes before the March board of trustees meeting. Activists want the board of trustees to agree to a five-year process culminating in full divestment, said BCJ member Iona Feldman ’17. “[BCJ plans to] escalate, pick up the pressure and declare that even [if they are] telling us no,” Feldman said. “This is still crucial for us, for our generation, for our planet, and we’ll keep doing this until we get a yes.”

On Thursday, Feb. 12, 40 students and faculty marched from the top of Rabb Steps to Provost Lisa Lynch’s office and delivered a faculty petition urging divestment signed by more than 125 faculty members. “In addition to doing everything we can to promote climate-friendly alternatives and eco-intelligence right here on our campus, we must stop profiting from fossil fuel extraction and invest our endowment in sustainable alternatives instead,” the petition read.

“I look forward to reading the Exploratory Committee on Fossil Fuel Divestment’s upcoming report. In the meanwhile, I am eager to move forward with Jim Gray, our vice president for operations, and the soon-to-be-hired sustainability manager to reduce our carbon footprint at Brandeis and making more progress on our campus sustainability initiative,” wrote Lynch in an email to The Brandeis Hoot.

The groups pursue divestment not because it will solve climate change in one fell swoop but rather because it puts pressure on fossil fuel companies to change their ways and opt for clean energy that reduces carbon emissions, which is what is heating the earth. “The goal of divestment is to shame the fossil fuel industry and to take away its legitimacy in society,” Professor Sabine von Mering (GRALL/WGS) said.

A climate justice advocate for many years, von Mering said that recent Harvard and Boston University faculty climate activism inspired the Brandeis faculty movement. The schools submitted open letters to their administrations imploring them to divest, and Brandeis faculty followed suit.

From a practical standpoint, Brandeis’ continued investment in fossil fuels is unsustainable, said von Mering. She says that the government will eventually be forced to impose a carbon tax on citizens in an effort to reduce additional carbon emissions. People will choose cleaner energy alternatives in order to evade the tax and save money, which will diminish fossil fuel companies’ profits. That would in turn lessen the university’s endowment. “We have a choice between cooking the planet or losing our money,” von Mering said.

As faculty of a university, FACT feels that it is their obligation to respond to scientific misinformation spread about climate change. “We must speak up in defense of science and in defense of our students’ futures and in defense of everyone who doesn’t have a voice in this,” von Mering said.

This is far from the first strain of activism pressuring Brandeis to divest from problematic endowment shares. BrandeisNOW reported that in the 1980s, the campus actively protested Brandeis’ investments in Apartheid South Africa. In 1986, students went as far as to build a shantytown, and the movement was successful in getting the administration to divest.

Feldman was attracted to the movement as a first-year because of its intersectionality. “We don’t see ourselves as a movement narrowly focusing on just environmental issues,” Feldman said. “We believe that part of the mission of Brandeis Climate Justice is a social justice issue to understand that the climate crisis is rooted in the imbalances of powers…so we really aim to stand in solidarity together with other struggles against injustice.”

On Friday, March 13, BCJ will be hosting a screening of “Gasland,” an anti-fracking documentary. The film will be screened at 7 p.m. in the Lown Auditorium. In the future, the club hopes to host a speaker who will expand upon the effects of fracking and natural gas.

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